Catastrophe and Cartography - Cataracts

Thanks to Canyon Lake Gorge, we know that severe erosion can happen in the span of just a few days. With that in mind, how much erosion would've taken place as our planet was shifting from the depths of the Ice Age, to our current warm climate?

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With the help of Google Earth, we can explore dozens of waterfalls around the world.  Niagara Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls, and we'll be using it as our starting point today.

One of the defining features of Niagara Falls is the "horseshoe" shape, also called a "Cataract".  We'll see similar cataracts throughout our journey today.

Potholes Coulee, in the Scablands of eastern Washington, has two very large extinct cataracts.  These were formed during the melt-down of the ice sheets during the Younger Dryas (12,900 - 11,600 years ago).  As the intense sheet floods raced over the landscape, they carved out the cataracts in just a few weeks.  

Speaking of accelerated erosion, we have Canyon Lake Gorge in Texas.  Canyon Lake Gorge was formed in 2002, when a storm dropped over 34 inches of rain in just a few days.  This caused the dam at Canyon Lake to burst, and sent catastrophic floods down the valley. 

Based on the erosion seen at Canyon Lake Gorge, we now know for certain that landscapes can be eroded much faster than mainstream science was willing to admit.  This proves that canyons can be formed in days!

We are currently in a calm, minimally erosive phase.  This is especially true in the deserts of Utah.  The current rate of erosion is one drop of water, one grand of sand at a time.  There may be an occasional flash-flood, but the desert landscapes have been pretty well preserved due to the lack of rainfall in the past few thousand years.  

However, there are times of accelerated erosion, as our planet shifts from a glacial to interglacial climate.  Based on current research, there have been ~20 of these transitions in the past 2.6 million years.

As we ponder this series of events, we realize that there must be a massive influx of energy to the planet.  How else would all that ice melt?  This is known as the "Energy Paradox".  There are a few possible explanations - increased volcanism, increased solar output, change in the earth's orbital inclination, impact events.  

Here's my hypothesis:

While the planet is going through the transition from glacial to interglacial, there are mega-storms forming across the world.  These mega-storms could stay over one large area for an extended time.  This causes severe erosion, like what we saw in Canyon Lake Gorge, but orders-of-magnitude larger.  

After the planet stabilizes, the erosion slows down to our present-day rates.  This minimal erosion helps to preserve the scars left behind.  

The Canyonlands in Utah were mainly formed during these brief, but extreme, storms.  

I'm not suggesting that the Canyonlands were formed in one event.  More likely, they are the result of the 20 transitions from glacial to inter-glacial during the last 2.6 million years.  

It's possible that all of the sandstone that was washed away ultimately ended up in present-day Mexico, where we can find large tracts of sand dunes.  (All that sandstone had to go somewhere, after all)

For more information, check out these videos: - Randall Carlson - Southwest Erosion - Randall Carlson - Death Valley - Potholes Coulee - Niagara Falls Drone - Canyon Lake Gorge - White Rim / Canyonlands

00:00 - Niagara Falls

02:37 - Snoqualmie Falls

04:26 - Iguazu Falls

05:28 - Potholes Coulee 

07:06 - Canyon Lake Gorge

08:22 - Upheaval Dome Controversy

09:15 - White Rim Cataracts 

13:10 - Corona Arch

14:37 - Goosenecks & Monument Valley

16:12 - Following the Floods

17:12 - Recap

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